Country information for Spain - Systems of support and specialist provision

The education system arranges the necessary resources to enable learners with temporary or permanent specific educational support needs to achieve the objectives established within the general programme for all learners. The public authorities adopt the necessary measures to identify learners that require additional educational attention and to assess their needs at an early age. Schooling is governed by the principles of inclusion and normalisation and will grant non-discrimination and effective equality in access to the education system and attendance at school.

School teaching is adapted to the needs of learners with specific educational support needs. Schools develop the curriculum through didactic plans, which must consider the learner’s needs and characteristics. They also develop an educational project which establishes the objectives and the educational priorities, along with the implementation procedures. To prepare the educational project, they consider the school characteristics and environment and the learner’s educational needs.

The Organic Act of Modification of LOE (LOMLOE, 2020) considers the following types of specific educational support needs:

  • Learners with special educational needs, associated physical, intellectual or sensory disability, severe communication and language disorders, or serious behavioural disorders
  • Learners with other specific educational support needs associated with developmental delay, developmental language and communication disorders, high-ability, late entry into the Spanish education system, attention or learning disorders, severe ignorance of the language of learning, socio-educational vulnerability, personal circumstances or past school records.

Learners with special educational needs

Learners with special educational needs (SEN) refers to those who require certain support and specific educational attention due to disability or serious communication and language or behavioural disorders, either for a period or throughout their schooling. These learners face barriers that limit their access, presence, participation or learning. Public administrations will give learners the necessary support from the beginning of their schooling or as soon as they are identified.

These learners require specialised support in accordance with non-discrimination and educational normalisation principles, with the purpose of achieving their inclusion. They are schooled in accordance with their characteristics. This may be through integration in mainstream groups, in specialised classrooms within mainstream schools, or in special schools, depending on the form determined by the professional teams, and taking into account their parents’ opinions. The curriculum allows many options to adjust to these differences so that learners may overcome any difficulties encountered. However, throughout their school career and, perhaps to a greater extent, during stages in which studies become progressively more complex, certain learners will, for very different reasons, find it more difficult to reach the objectives and contents laid down in the common curriculum. These learners will consequently need more specific adjustments.

Measures offered to all learners by the education system to attend to diversity include:

  • successive levels of curricular formulation, involving the progressive adaptation of the official curriculum and optional areas and subjects. This constitutes a resource for learners to enhance and develop their personal preferences;
  • reinforcement and support activities organised in educational establishments. This is a very generalised measure of attention to diversity which is usually aimed at the instrumental areas (mathematics and language);
  • specific grouping.

If these measures are insufficient to respond to the educational needs of an individual learner, the education system considers a series of extraordinary measures. These include repeating a cycle or school year, significant curricular adaptations, support measures for learners with SEN, Curricular Diversification Programmes and Basic Vocational Training programmes.

Curricular adaptations are made on an individual basis. If the learner’s SEN requires it, the mainstream curriculum may be significantly modified and adapted. Applying these extraordinary measures involves changing the contents, objectives and assessment criteria of the mainstream curriculum. The necessary point of departure for such measures is a previous psycho-pedagogical assessment (performed by the specialised guidance services) and an on-going follow-up that allows the learner to access the mainstream curriculum whenever possible.

Learners with SEN can attend both special education and mainstream schools. Schooling should preferably be provided in mainstream schools, adapting programmes to each learner’s capacities. Schooling in special education centres may be extended until the age of 21, but only takes place when the learner’s needs require very specialised attention that cannot be provided in a mainstream school.

Hence, in mainstream pre-primary, primary and secondary education, learners with SEN are enrolled as part of the mainstream learner body. These schools should adapt the physical and material conditions to the needs of their enrolled learners and have the necessary resources available (special teachers, qualified professionals, etc.). They must also take the pedagogical, organisational and operational steps to accommodate learners with SEN in their programmes. Furthermore, all the autonomous communities consider the possibility of appointing preferred centres for enrolling learners with specific SEN, who may require a particular type of environment or a professional specialisation which is difficult to find in many places. In this way, suitable educational attention may be guaranteed for such learners.

In non-compulsory education stages, learners with SEN are educated in a form of inclusion with necessary curricular adaptations or the total or partial exemption of subjects, if it meets the requirements. The educational administrations provide the specific educational support and attention that allow these learners to continue their schooling.

Specific support measures

Appropriate school building facilities

All educational establishments must meet the hygienic, acoustic, habitability and security conditions stipulated in the current legislation. They will also have the necessary architectural conditions to facilitate access, movement and communication, in accordance with the legislation regarding the promotion of accessibility and elimination of barriers.

Special adaptations to the curriculum

Learners with SEN linked to disability will be educated for the ages set down by the education regulations, with the exceptions listed below. The established curriculum is adapted or modified as necessary so that learners with SEN may achieve the general objectives and contents. These adaptations may be curriculum access adaptations (modifications or predictions related to spatial resources, introduction of new materials and use of additional communication systems) or curricular adaptations, such as modified objectives, contents, methodology, activities and assessment criteria and procedures, which are carried out within the classroom planning. Curricular adaptations may be significant or non-significant adaptations. The latter do not affect basic teaching, whereas the former involve eliminating certain basic teaching included in the mainstream curriculum (objectives, contents and assessment criteria). Some of the former adaptations require additional human and material resources to change the organisation of educational establishments and methodology, or substitute or introduce new areas or subjects, contents and objectives.

Connection and co-ordination between mainstream schools integrating learners with SEN and specific special education establishments guide school inclusion. The aim is for special educational establishments to progressively become open educational resource centres for the professionals working in the local mainstream establishments.

Additional support provided by specialist teachers

The guidelines on the most suitable educational treatment to offer (types of schooling, curricular adaptations, etc.) follow a diagnosis. Each autonomous community establishes services that are responsible for responding to the educational and psycho-pedagogical counselling demands of schools, learners and teachers.

The education system offers teachers help with learners with SEN through specialists in special education, speech therapy and qualified professionals.

Apart from the guidance teams working for the educational establishments of a district or area (zone or sector teams), some autonomous communities have set up specialised specific teams and early intervention teams. Regardless of which education authority they report to, guidance teams are responsible for SEN detection, assessment and diagnosis, as well as counselling, collaborating and participating in the educational process of learners with SEN.

In several autonomous communities, guidance teams are still part of an external support network for schools. It is common for members of the teams to be part of the school staff (through the teachers’ council, the guidance department when it exists, the pedagogical co-ordination commission, etc.).

Almost all autonomous communities have guidance departments in secondary education establishments and, in some communities, in pre-primary and primary schools. The result has been a closer bond between specialised support services and schools, which has improved the response to SEN.

The Ministry and the autonomous communities have formulated and implemented various organisational alternatives for learners with serious developmental disorders who cannot attend school, learners who are hospitalised, or learners who must be absent from school for prolonged or repeated periods of time for medical reasons. These include:

  • education support units during the school year for communities with enough learners of compulsory school age;
  • mobile teachers who provide learners with education in their homes;
  • school units in hospitals which work in co-ordination with the learner’s school.

Special teaching methods and materials

There are more specific guidelines according to the learner’s type of special educational needs. For those with sensory impairments (visual, auditory), priority is placed on:

  • strategies aimed at fostering and promoting alternative means;
  • strategies which enable learners to explicitly relate learning experiences;
  • spatial organisation;
  • learner groupings, to make the most of their visual and auditory possibilities;
  • teacher-learner and learner-learner interaction.

Learners with visual disabilities, who cannot access the ink reading-writing method will use Braille. In this case, tactile sensory stimulation and space-time orientation must be fostered.

Learners with auditory disabilities must learn to communicate by alternative means: sign language, bimodal system, etc. These have their own methodological guidelines. Spanish legislation gives parents and learners the possibility to choose between sign language and oral language (with or without support).

Learners with motor disabilities must be assisted in mobility and manipulating objects, favouring mobility in the classroom and access to didactic resources, as well as prioritising oral and visual explanations to help them understand messages.

Specific methodologies aimed at developing oral communication or alternative systems are necessary for learners with serious developmental disorders. Imitation learning, modelling and mediation techniques (physical, oral aids, etc.), incidental methodology and reinforcement are some of the most specific guidelines.

Furthermore, space must be arranged according to learners’ needs and adapted to the instruments, equipment and technical aids they require. This allows the possibility of creating different layouts and functional arrangements to promote interaction and communication with adults and among learners.

Teaching methods and materials

Methodological assistance for learners with SEN must comply with the educational principles established for the school-age population in general, taking the learner’s level of development as a starting point. This means accommodating each learner’s intellectual, communicational-linguistic, social-affective and motor characteristics, since here diversity prevails. The objectives are:

  • To guarantee significant learning. More than anyone else, learners with SEN require learning to be applicable to their daily living skills and to serve as a basis to gain access to subsequent learning.
  • To enable learners to undertake significant learning on their own (learning to learn). To achieve this, learners with SEN must be given the necessary skills and procedures to be able to learn independently.
  • To promote both physical and intellectual activity. Learners must be active in their learning process in order to assimilate and fully comprehend the activities and operations they are undertaking. This may be achieved with the aid of their teacher or their peers, although they will admittedly need more help and/or a different kind of help. The relevant technical aids will be available when learners require them.

Reduced class sizes

The number of learners integrated in mainstream classrooms may be lower than that established in general in order to meet their educational support needs.

In special education classrooms, whether in specific special education or mainstream establishments, the number of learners will be reduced.

Special arrangements for evaluation or progress through education

The mandatory assessment criteria established by the autonomous communities determines what exactly to assess. For learners with SEN, the criteria must be amended in conjunction with the objectives and curricular content adjustments and adaptations.

Assessment involves determining the most suitable tools and procedures on one hand, and the possible adaptations of these tools on the other hand. Using varied and diverse assessment tools and procedures is recommended, since a single procedure, such as a written or oral test, presents serious difficulties for some learners with motor functional difficulties or who find it difficult to express themselves. Moreover, exclusive use of this kind of assessment provides only limited information on learners’ comprehension of curricular content. Consequently, it is necessary to use other tools that provide information on aspects that are difficult to assess by oral or written means. These include observation, questionnaires, interviews, analysis of class work, etc. Using tests and tools adapted to the real-life classroom is likewise recommended, such as, for example, pedagogical tests, observation records and follow-up sheets.

Furthermore, the educational context should be evaluated in terms of learners with SEN. Common criteria should be established to provide and receive information from parents and learners, due to the diversity of professionals who work with them at times.

Assessment considers various key moments in the development of a given teaching/learning process. Three moments can be defined: initial assessment, formative assessment and summative assessment.

At the end of the school year, the assessment teams evaluate the degree of achievement of the targets established at the beginning of the school year for learners with SEN. The assessment results must allow the introduction of the necessary adaptations. This decision, if necessary, could even be adopted during the school year.

The general regulation for pre-primary, primary and compulsory secondary education is applied nationwide to the process of promoting learners with SEN. Therefore, a learner may spend an additional year in the second cycle of pre-primary education if the counselling department considers that it will allow the learner to meet the objectives of that cycle or will be beneficial for their socialisation process. A learner may spend no more than two additional years in compulsory education.

Decisions regarding promotion or repetition will always be made based on the information obtained during the assessment process and in relation to learners’ progress towards their planned objectives. Decisions are accompanied by complementary educational measures to help learners reach programme objectives.

Learners with SEN are evaluated regarding the objectives and content modifications made through individualised curricular adaptations. This makes it possible for these learners to pass and qualify.

The law also indicates that special arrangements will be taken to adapt assessments to the needs of learners with specific or educational support needs.

After completing compulsory secondary education and reaching the planned objectives, learners with SEN are awarded the Compulsory Secondary Education (CSE) certificate. This enables them to gain access to non-compulsory secondary education and intermediate specific vocational training. All learners receive a certificate indicating the number of years of study and the grades they have received in different areas, together with non-prescriptive and confidential guidance regarding their academic and professional future.

Basic Vocational Training (BVT) programmes are another route to the CSE. BVT programmes provide basic vocational training, which enables learners to participate in the working world, and gives them the option of getting the CSE certificate. Learners with SEN may enrol either in the general BVT programmes under the integrative framework or in BVT programmes specifically designed for learners with SEN.

Furthermore, learners with SEN who have successfully completed any of the post-compulsory stages of the system will receive the corresponding certificate. A proposal may be put forward to issue the Bachillerato, Technician or Technical Superior certificate for learners who have studied Bachillerato and specific vocational training with significant adaptations in some of their subjects.

Separate special provision

Special schools are intended for learners who cannot be included in mainstream schools but who follow compulsory teaching. When there are no special education centres in the area, these learners receive their schooling in special education units within mainstream centres. Learners are enrolled in separate special education units or schools only when there is sound reason to believe that their needs cannot be suitably met in a mainstream school. There are also specific special education establishments that enrol learners with SEN associated with a very specific type of disability.

Special schools offer two education levels:

  • compulsory basic education (from 6 to 16 years old)
  • transition into adulthood programmes (from 16 to 19 years old, where learners can attend school up until 21 years of age).

Some schools also provide the second cycle of pre-primary education (from 3 to 6 years old).

Basic education teachers in special schools are generally specialised in special education and/or hearing and speech. In complementary vocational training or programmes for transition to adult life, learners receive instruction from technical teachers of vocational training, who teach technical-practical courses, as well as from the aforementioned basic education teachers.

Moreover, the autonomous communities provide special schools with additional support and guidance staff members. The number and specialisation of these professionals vary according to the autonomous community. The professional–learner ratio varies depending on the number of learners and the kind of curricular adaptations they need.

High-ability learners

The LOMLOE stipulates:

  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to adopt the necessary measures to identify high-ability and gifted learners and assess their needs as early as possible. Moreover, they should introduce appropriate action plans to meet these needs and curricular enrichment programmes to allow learners to develop their abilities to a higher degree.
  • The government, after consultation with the autonomous communities, will establish the regulations to allow for flexibility in the length of each stage of the education system in the case of high-ability learners, independently of their age.

Late entries into the Spanish education system

The LOMLOE stipulates:

  • It is the responsibility of the public authorities to ensure the incorporation into the Spanish education system of learners who arrive from other countries or who enter the education system late for any reason. This will be guaranteed, at least, for compulsory school age.
  • The education administrations will guarantee that the enrolment of late entries into the Spanish education system is adapted to the circumstances, knowledge, age and academic record of these learners to ensure they are incorporated into the academic year which is best suited to their characteristics and previous knowledge, with the relevant support to ensure that they will pursue their education as successfully as possible.
  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to develop specific programmes for learners who have serious language problems or lack basic competences and knowledge, in order to facilitate their inclusion into the corresponding academic year.
  • The development of these programmes will be simultaneous, in all cases, with the learners’ attendance of normal classes, according to their level and progress.
  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the parents or guardians of learners who enter the education system late receive the relevant information and advice concerning the rights, obligations and opportunities which incorporation into the Spanish education system entails.

Development of inclusion

Since school inclusion began in Spain with the Organic Law on the Right to Education (LODE, 1985), a number of things have been achieved, although some still require work.

The 1978 Spanish Constitution guarantees all citizens’ right to education and urges public authorities to implement a policy of planning, treatment, rehabilitation and inclusion of people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities in all social areas and, therefore, in education. The same year, the National Institute for Special Education drew up the National Plan on Special Education, which formulated the standardisation of services, educational inclusion and individual attention principles for the first time.

The principles set down were embraced and legally embodied with the enactment in 1982 of the Act on the Social Integration of People with Disabilities (LISMI). The Act sets down a series of measures concerning personal, social and labour attention for people with disabilities. Among these measures are basic guidelines for the educational framework, with the aim of guaranteeing that these learners may reach, as far as possible, the established general objectives of education.

The 1990 Organic Law on the General Regulation of the Education System (LOGSE) no longer understands special education as education for a different kind of learner, but as the set of material and human resources available to the education system in order to meet some learners’ needs, whether temporary or permanent. The education system must have the necessary resources for learners with SEN to achieve the general goals set for all learners. The LOGSE lays down inclusion of special education within the mainstream system and introduces the concept of ‘special educational needs’. The latter term covers anything from the most common and temporary of needs, to those of a more severe and permanent nature. All educational needs should be attended to within the framework of a comprehensive education system that is open to diversity. The principle of normalisation, with the aim of promoting school inclusion, underlies this.

The Organic Act on Education (LOE, 2006) changes the scope and the objectives on special education, which is no longer the concept. Instead it focuses on specific educational support needs. This considers that education focuses on achieving respect for basic rights and liberties, equal rights and opportunities between men and women and equal treatment and non-discrimination for people with disabilities.

At present, the Organic Act of Modification of LOE (LOMLOE, 2020) follows the inclusive education criteria developed by the LOE. It proposes a transversal approach aimed at ensuring that all learners have guarantees of success in education through a dynamic and continuous improvement of educational centres and greater personalisation of learning. This will eliminate the barriers that limit their access, presence, participation and learning. The ultimate goal is to strengthen equity and the inclusive capacity of the system.

Last updated 09/11/2022

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